BY SHIRLEY CUPLIN, PHOTOS BY PETER MCCULLY AND LISSA ALEXANDER
It would be easy enough to assume that the Silver Spur Riding Club is little more than a social group that offers fun events for equine enthusiasts. And it does do that, but there is so much more to the story of this venerable organization.
Founded in 1947, the club gained formal society status in 1950. Over its long 74-year history, its membership list has included names like Banks, McMillan, Stanhope and a host of other local luminaries who were well known for their contributions to the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area.
Initially home-base for the club was Mollie’s Dine and Dance, located on Highway 19A just north of the Little Qualicum River Bridge. The chimney from the old building still stands sentry on the highway but the rest of it, and some of the club’s history, have faded in to the mists of time.
Eventually the club moved its headquarters to the Coombs Fairgrounds — a fortuitous arrangement, being that members were heavily involved in staging horse shows and other equine events. The Silver Spur members helped get stabling and a warm-up ring built at the fairgrounds, among other activities.
Aside from the equine-oriented activities, however, the club has always had a very dedicated involvement with doing good deeds in the community.
“We have always had a very strong commitment to health-related causes,” says Barbara Smith, who has been a member for upwards of 35 years. “We have lost some very good people in the club to health issues, so we have undertaken to raise money for various organizations.”
The club’s fund-raising efforts began in 1990 and have included pledge rides that have benefited research in cancer and ALS. They have also made financial contributions to the Errington Therapeutic Riding Association and Oceanside Hospice Society. The pledge rides have attracted up to 100 riders, who travelled to the area from far and wide. The events have started and finished in varying locations, often meandering along trails blazed by club members.
“The pledge rides have varied in size,” says Cecil Mercer, who has been a club member since the early 1980s. “Much depended on the size of the club at any given time.”
By the late 1980s it looked as though the Silver Spur Riding Club would disappear from the local landscape altogether. There was a two-year hiatus, but then the club came roaring back more active and vigorous than ever.
“In 1991 the club rose from the ashes,” says Barbara, “and there has been no looking back.”
As the club regained strength and members, so did its commitment to the communities surrounding it.
Silver spur toy ride
Beginning in 1991 the club also undertook an annual Toy Ride, which continues to this day. Every year (last year being an exception because of the pandemic) club members gather for a ride through Parksville. Horses and riders are all decked out in festive garb and a collection wagon is hauled along the route, to take in contributions of toys and cash.
The ride wends its way to the Society of Organized Services (SOS) where club members get lunch, horses get carrots, and the first haul of toys is dropped off. Then it’s on to Stanford Place seniors home, where more toys are collected and the residents have an opportunity to visit with the horses and club members.
“By the end of the day the wagon is stuffed to overflowing,” says club secretary Nancy Gourlay. “We even have volunteers to clean up any manure dropped along the route, so it is very well organized. Start to finish, it all takes about two and a half hours.”
Since 2012, the club’s toy ride has attracted up to 55 riders. The group musters at Ballenas Secondary School in Parksville before heading out to collect unwrapped toys and cash. Generally, somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 in cash accompanies the toys donated to the SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program. This year’s Toy Ride is set for Sunday, November 28, with riders departing Ballenas at 12:15 p.m. parading along Morison Ave. and arriving at the SOS Thrift Shop parking lot around 12:40. There will be eleves travelling alongside the convoy to collect donations of new, unwrapped gifts for the cause.
The club has always had assistance with the Toy Ride from Arrowsmith Search and Rescue. That affiliation had its beginnings when Silver Spur members formed an equine search and rescue team to assist ASAR.
“Horses have the ability to air scent,” explains Cecil. “You can cover a lot of ground on horseback and, of course, riders have a better overall view of the terrain than someone on foot. Horses can see and hear better as well, so the equine search and rescue team was a real asset, especially in difficult conditions.”
Although the equine search squad eventually petered out, the club has continued to contribute to its nearby communities in other ways.
“We have run some competitive trail rides in the area,” explains Barbara, “Some as long as 35 miles in length. So club members have established many trails. Many of them are loops in places like Nanoose, Errington, Whiskey Creek, Coombs, French Creek and Bowser. The club is very keen on promoting multi-use recreational trails. They are open for anyone to use and enjoy, so it’s a pretty big community contribution.”
The club also offers four $250 bursaries each calendar year to its members. The money can be used to help pay for equestrian-related educational opportunities, including formal schooling and workshops.
It may sound like all work and no play with all the good community work the club does, but its members still know how to have fun. There are monthly gymkhanas (informal competitive equine events) that keep members active and connected.
“The gymkhanas are extra important,” says Cecil “because they involve people of all ages and from all walks of life. They are great social events as well as a lot of fun, and they keep our members motivated and energized.” These days, the club boasts a membership of 86 adult members and 14 juniors.
Clearly, you can’t keep a good organization down — at least, not for long. The Silver Spur Riding Club’s contributions to our communities are multitudinous, if sometimes not even realized. The club’s long history in this area is a credit to the resourcefulness and dedication of the equine community and a bonus for everyone who lives here.
Further information on the club and its activities can be found at www.silverspurridingclub.org